is it okay: to sit next to someone (and be a potential space invader)?
Apparently humans as a group are a gas. Not so much in the 1950s tea party oh-my-goodness-he’s-so-funny kind of way, but in the way we will spread out to fill whatever space we’re given – equidistantly.
People just hate sitting next to strangers. We’ve all seen it – at the doctor’s, in a lecture, on the bus or in a cinema. Couple half one. Couple half two. Space. Man. Space. Woman. Bag seat. Additional space. Parent. Parent. Child. Space. Space. Sneezing guy. Space. Space. Space. We distance ourselves from one another because it is the socially done thing; if you don’t have to sit next to someone, don’t sit next to them. Easy, excellent.
However, sometimes the space is too small, the people too many, and there just aren’t enough seats to go all around you in all directions, cocooning you in a special blanket of social isolation. Damn. All I wanted was to watch this movie unencumbered by the vague possibility of a stranger’s jacket brushing against me.
There are logical reasons for feeling uncomfortable; you don’t know if someone is sick, dangerous or if they will just smell really bad. Close proximity to someone you don’t know may feel too intimate; there is personal space, and the seat next to you encroaches on this a little bit too much. I get it. I’ve been irritated by having people sit unnecessarily next to me too. But somewhere along the line, the logical got mixed up with the subconscious, and now it seems that for the most part we stamp the “one person, two seats” rule onto situations where it just isn’t necessary.
We have all been on both sides of the coin as either the encroached upon or the space invader. As the latter, part of it is social awkwardness. Maybe they will say we can’t sit there. Maybe there is a reason the seat is unoccupied. Maybe we will put ourselves out there, only to be rejected, slapped down, and sent to stand against the wall as everyone points and laughs. You probably forgot to even put on pants in this scenario. Better skip the middle ground and just stand by the wall anyway.
For the encroached upon, on the minor end of the scale, maybe it’s because we just want some alone time. It’s the end of the day, you’re on the bus, and the last thing you want is to be pressed against a window by someone who is blasting their iPod until your head is filled with tinny Bieber hits.
It is nice to have a bit of your own space. At the doctor’s, it is relatively awesome to not be shoulder to navel with a small child haemorrhaging snot, and if you’re in the cinema, you can put your jacket down next to you, utilise two drink holders and also avoid the embarrassment of having strangers overhear you softly weeping into your Maltesers as Snape reveals his undying love for Lily. But this is really a bonus, and not exactly the definition of true bliss. If you take a step back, I am not entirely sure why it is such a huge problem so the lengths some people will go to in order to keep away from others starts to tip into the hilarity zone.
Firstly, there is the person at the movies who will sacrifice an excellent seat in order to bunch up in the back row where they will need binoculars or a truly excellent two-cups-and-a-piece-of-string set up in order to keep apprised of what is going on. I’m not sure what he thought the old woman with the walker in the prime location was going to do to him, but I assume it must involve Krav Maga to the face in order to flee so far back.
I can’t say I’m not guilty of being irritated by having someone sit in a previously unoccupied seat. However, in the two occasions that immediately spring to mind, one woman trapped me against a window as she filed what used to be her nails on to my bag, and the other sat next to me on an otherwise empty bus. She asked first to use my phone, then interrogated me about my life, intentions and business in the city. Following that, she went on to spend five minutes telling me how hungry she was, at the end of which, fifteen year old me was convinced she was going to murder and eat me.
Ignoring these two exceptions, every other time I’ve sat next to someone I didn’t know, I somehow miraculously escaped without them licking their hands and rubbing them on my face. So, to the person who fiercely guards the window seat on the bus by planting themselves in the aisle, the man chillaxing alone in the front row essentially with his face plastered to the screen, and the woman hiding in the fortress of shopping bags: stop it. No-one’s going to eat you. They’ll just make you think they’re going to, then get off one stop before yours and disappear into a Mexican restaurant.